By Jessica Baxter, Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation co-op student. Originally published January, 2021.

Even through a pandemic, the Gustavson School of Business continued to solidify its commitment to environmental and social responsibility by investing in carbon offset projects chosen by students. This investment completely offsets the school’s 2019-2020 Scope 3 travel and commuting emissions.

The process began over ten years ago when Gustavson decided to begin reporting on its carbon emissions. UVic, as a public sector institution in BC, is mandated to offset all Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions. In 2017, Gustavson’s Carbon Neutrality+ (CN+) committee decided to make the process more impactful by offsetting all Scope 3 emissions, as well.

The following year, students, faculty and staff were asked to take part in deciding which offsetting projects the school would invest in.  “The idea was that we all contribute to these emissions, so we can also all be part of the solution,” says sustainability professor and CN+ committee leader Simon Pek.

This year’s Carbon Offset Pitch competition, like many events, ran a little differently. The competition encourages student teams to create a video along with a written submission explaining which carbon offset projects should be invested in. From there, submissions are narrowed down by the CN+ team and then voted on by Gustavson students, faculty and staff.

Due to COVID-19 and necessary social distancing, the creative process was different this year as teams had to work remotely. Emma and Kelly of the Carbon Kickers team noted that “collaborating solely online has definitely had its challenges, but it was a process that led both of us to feel more confident and capable creating and presenting online.” Despite the challenge, there were many great submissions this year that were both thoughtful and creative.

Each of the portfolio projects students could choose from were distinctly different and selected for unique reasons. Adrian Boot and Daan Arscott of team Valentinus explained that they chose their portfolio “because of [their] strategy of aligning [themselves] with the ‘true cost of climate change.’ We just picked the most expensive projects that were closest to meeting the $40-$80 carbon price required to reach the Paris Climate Agreement goal.”

The competition ended with a virtual celebration event where the Gustavson community was invited to watch the top three submissions and see the winners announced. The first place winner of this year’s competition was Mia Pepevnak’s submission One-Tonne-at-a-Time. Her submission wowed voters with her creativity, video editing skills and compelling storytelling as well as a stellar combination of portfolio projects.

Pepevnak’s chosen projects will be used to offset Gustavson’s 2019 Scope 3 emissions. Mia explains that she chose projects that she felt “were best aligned with Gustavson’s four pillars (International, Integrative, Innovative, and Socially Responsible and Sustainable).” She decided to allocate half her portfolio to the Canada Thermal Residential Heating Aggregation Project, “which installs solar heating systems in place of fossil fuel combustion heating systems. As a Canadian project that reduces carbon emissions at the household level, this project felt particularly relevant in a year where Canadians have spent a large and unprecedented amount of time at home.” She designated the other half of her portfolio “to an international project—the Biogas Wastewater Treatment Plant in Nakhon, Thailand. In addition to emissions reductions that provide environmental benefits, this project has several social benefits. These include providing long-term jobs grounded in sustainability, supporting community and educational programs, and bolstering the local fish farming economy.”

In a year of virtual classes away from the usually active campus life, participants all felt as though this was a great opportunity to be a part of the Gustavson community and have their voices heard. Adrian and Daan say that “it was an opportunity to be involved with a real decision that Gustavson has to make. All across North America students are calling for climate action from their universities, so it was great to have a chance to share our voice.” Mia adds that “entering the competition was a great way for me to feel connected and engage with the business school this fall while out of province on co-op. As a Gustavson student, I contribute to the school’s collective emissions—I am thankful for the opportunity to be part of the solution in offsetting these same emissions. Overall, entering the competition was a way for me to move beyond the classroom and be part of a real-world initiative to address sustainability issues.”

Find out more about Gustavson’s Carbon Offset Pitch Competition: